Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Martin Munkácsi: A Portrait in Motion


In the early decades of the last century, photography was just breaking into the world of fine portraiture and fashion. Most photographers were content with the drab backdrops of the studio, but a few broke out of the studio's claustrophobic corners and sought out a more animated backdrop. One of these was Martin Munkácsi who made his name as a man who made fashion and portraits in motion.


Martin Munkácsi started his career in photography in his native Hungary. He mostly preferred sports photography, being particularly adept at capturing motion in the frame, something that was difficult to do back then with the cumbersome large-format cameras. His skill would bring him to Germany where he continued his particular flair for action pictures.

By this time, as he traveled to Italy, Turkey and Egypt on assignment, Munkácsi was already ingraining in himself the photographic style for which he would be known for in the decades to come.


While Munkácsi was already a success in the world of sports photography, he became even more successful in the world of portraiture when he fled Nazi-led Germany in the 1930s. While other fashion photographers at that time were still figuring out the intricacies of indoor lighting and composition (like the highly regarded Edward Steichen), Munkácsi almost immediately set out for the great outdoors in the employ of Harper's Bazaar. His outdoor fashion images had a hint of the spontaneity and "out there" quality that would be commonplace in fashion magazines in the 1960s and 1970s.

He also took formal portraits of the leading Hollywood stars of his time, with the same drive he had for his fashion photographs (much to the discomfort of some of the famous subjects that sat for him). By the 1940s, he became the highest-paid photographer of his generation.


Munkácsi's style eventually fell out favor, but his influence can be seen in dozens of other well-known photographers. The great fashion photographer Richard Avedon said that Munkácsi "...brought a taste for happiness and honesty and a love of women to what was, before him, a joyless, lying art." Avedon's style (and even a few of his fashion photographs) clearly pays homage to his predecessor. It's no wonder then that Munkácsi is sometimes referred to as the "Father of Fashion Photography".

Another great photographer (if not the greatest), Henri Cartier-Bresson, commenting on one image said, ""I saw a photograph of three black children running into the sea, and I must say that it is that very photograph which was for me the spark that set fire to the fireworks. It is only that one photograph which influenced me. There is in that image such intensity, spontaneity, such a joy of life, such a prodigy, that I am still dazzled by it even today." His statement is as true this day as it was when he first said it.


Unfortunately, Martin Munkácsi doesn't have an official website, but there are a lot of fine examples of his portraits in motion over at the PBase website. If you want to the hardcopy option, there's the appropriately titled MARTIN MUNKACSI, Style in Motion: Munkacsi Photographs of the '20s, '30s, and '40s (First Edition), and Aperture 128: Martin Munkacsi.


14 comments:

Fang said...

Nowadays it almost seems like outside in the real scene is the obvious choice for photography. Find it a bit weird to think it was once all studio-work and fake backdrops and whatnot.

crowbloke said...

^^ what fang said...

Banacek said...

Yep. Those are outside the studio.

R said...

I love these portraits!

Bart said...

ppl used to get naked at beaches... wat... never knew that

D4 said...

I just love what he can do when umbrella's are involved. Eye candy.

Interwebs Fails said...

Love these

Ray Rousell said...

Great photos, I like the last one, it just looks strangely different??

G said...

It amazes me how fresh his work looks given that we're now saturated with images and photographs these days

A Heel in Mint said...

Love the back and white background mixed with natural movements. One of a kind. :)

Bersercules said...

Love these pictures! first one is my favourite but the nude with umbrella is great too! Heck there all great! Looking at these now really hits home how things are still pretty much the same!

T. Roger Thomas said...

Fantastic photos!

JDC said...

I had an umbrella till the wind torn it apart =(

Shutterbug said...

there's something so wonderful about these portraits!

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